Meta’s Ray-Bans Are Alarming for Privacy in Private Spaces, Not in Public

Brian X. Chen tried Meta’s recently updated Ray-Ban “smart” glasses for the New York Times:

To inform people that they are being photographed, the Ray-Ban Meta glasses include a tiny LED light embedded in the right frame to indicate when the device is recording. When a photo is snapped, it flashes momentarily. When a video is recording, it is continuously illuminated.

As I shot 200 photos and videos with the glasses in public, including on BART trains, on hiking trails and in parks, no one looked at the LED light or confronted me about it. And why would they? It would be rude to comment on a stranger’s glasses, let alone stare at them.

Chen interviewed Chris Gilliard, who raised concerns about the implications of these glasses in places where privacy is expected. That seems like a correct worry for the mainstreaming of spy glasses. Glasses with cameras are not new, and you can buy them on Amazon for about $50. But Meta is reframing the creepiness of them as a virtue, as is the company’s business model. What I do not get is what Chen’s experiences are supposed to indicate.

I have shot thousands of photos in public places and, yes, people do not notice — and I was using a conspicuous digital camera for many of those images. People do not have their guard up on trains and in parks in the same way they would in, say, a locker room. It is not newsworthy that nobody asked Chen about the little LED indicator on a hike, and not just because it is “rude to comment on a stranger’s glasses” — or sunglasses, as is the case here. It is a completely different context from the actual places where it is a problem that someone is wearing a discreet camera. It is therefore difficult to see legal and publishable experiences as a useful proxy for illegal and creepy uses.